A colleague prepared the below reflection for a congregation on his struggles with Equal Marriage, and his desire to be true to both his heart & his head, but not to discriminate while he does so.
This is an honest account, and I wish others were as gracious.
Do feel free to share your comments, but remember, the piece is not mine, and I can't identify my colleague. I personally am 100% in support of Equal Marriage and hope to see the day where we can celebrate with our LGBT+ community in our churches (& even allow clergy to wed their same-sex partners, without disciplinary action or rebuke).
A view from sitting on the fence! (Psalm 45 and Matthew 19:1-11)
The Conference of the British Methodist Church recently met in Birmingham. The subject matter of one of the reports received and debated was The Methodist Church’s response to recent changes in legislation in regard of Civil Partnerships and Same Sex Marriages in the UK. This followed a wide ranging national consultation earlier in the year.
Having read the report, having followed the debate live online on Wednesday, and having reflected on the resolutions passed; I would like to share with you where I now find myself: I find myself sitting right on top of the fence. And this seems a very good place to be-at least for now!
It is a very good place to be because I find myself in very good company. I sense many other individual Methodists are sitting up here with me, from a wide range of theological positions and sexual orientations. Indeed, it would appear that, at least constitutionally, the whole of British Methodism is now encamped on said fence with me (for at least the next two years).
For the Methodist Church has now committed to a two year period of listening, reflecting and discernment following the legislation of same-sex marriage in England, Wales and Scotland earlier this year.
The Methodist Church, in line with scripture and traditional teaching, still believes that marriage is a gift of God and that it is God's intention that a marriage should be a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of one man and one woman. The Methodist Conference did not vote on changing this understanding, or 'opting in' so as to permit Methodist Church buildings to be registered for same-sex marriage ceremonies or Methodist ministers to be authorised to conduct them.
However, the Conference did resolve that its previous ruling that there was no reason per se to prevent anyone within the Church, ordained or lay, from entering into a civil partnership, should now also extend to those entering into legally contracted same-sex marriages.
The Conference also agreed revised guidelines that will allow local churches and ministers to consider the appropriate pastoral response to requests for prayers and blessings of same-sex couples-effectively allowing local ministers and congregations to act according to their conscience.
The Conference then directed the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion committee to work on the production and dissemination of clear guidance on what is to be regarded as homophobia.
Finally a new working party was appointed to oversee the two-year period of reflection concerning relationships and living with difference, and to report to the Conference in 2016.
So here we all are, sitting together, up on top of the fence.
I humbly suggest that there are now two main tasks we need to undertake.
1: We need to find our balance.
For what it is worth I now feel as if I am standing on top of the fence juggling with my Bible in one hand and my sense of Reason in the other. At the same time I find my head pulls towards the very good Experience I have of relationships with homosexual friends and colleagues, whilst my heart still pulls in the (apparently) opposite direction of the Church’s Traditional Teaching on marriage. This can feel very ‘wobbly’ at times!
So how do I get centred and balanced? Well, if I was a dancer or gymnast on a balance beam I would be taught to find my balance by ‘spotting’. I would have to learn to fix my eyes on something directly ahead of me; something which fixed, reliable-unmoving.
As young children in Church weren’t many of us taught to ‘fix (or turn) our eyes upon Jesus!’
Surely this is a key to our future unity in Christ on this, and other serious matters of faith and conduct, as we try to find our ‘balance’ together as the people of God. So I humbly suggest the very first thing ‘fence dwellers’ need to do is to continually fix their eyes upon Jesus: To continue together in prayer and worship, as they travel along what may seem like a rather ‘narrow way’.
The other reason I believe sitting of the fence is great is because:
2: It is a good place to listen.
My wife and I have recently moved. Our kitchen door opens out onto our garden and is right next to our neighbours. But there is a six foot fence in between the two doors. When the weather is hot we leave our kitchen door open most of the time-as do our neighbours. We can hear their pots clanging; we can smell their baking; our dog can sense the very near presence of their cat; and we even like some of the music they listen to on their radio. But the one thing we cannot do is hear what they are saying. We know when they are having a conversation but their voices, their words, are indistinct, muffled, distant.
However, if I was to climb up onto the fence I could not only hear everything they were saying I could actually join in their conversation: And even potentially include my wife in it whilst she continued to potter at the far end of our garden. The point is someone’s got to sit on top of the fence, to include everyone in the conversation, until we are ready to pull the fence down!
Yet, there is some One else we surely need to listen to. The freeholder: The One who not only owns the property but all our lives; in eternal love, grace, and unity.
Amongst other things, truly listening to God, from on top of the fence, requires a reading of (wrestling with) scripture based on the principle “Those who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”
As I have tried to listen to what the Spirit is presently saying to the Methodist Church I have been drawn to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19:1-11
Here I humbly share my personal reflections on these verses:
First, let us note the context and motivation. The Pharisees don’t want to know about ‘marriage’ they want to trap Jesus with a question about divorce: “is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
Second, we must note the main point of Jesus’ reply: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Third, we must also note the surprising reaction of the disciples to Jesus’ teaching: “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” In other words, ‘wow Jesus that’s a pretty tall order perhaps it’s better not to get married at all!’
It seems to me that the consistent message of Jesus regarding marriage, throughout the gospels-and especially in Matthew, is one of FAITHFULNESS: It’s ‘till death us do "partedness"!
You see in Jesus’ day the idea of ‘same sex marriage’ had not even entered the imagination of the Jewish people but 101 legal ways of divorcing your wife had; even amongst the Pharisees. The standard Jesus raises is one of life long faithfulness.
It is also worth noting Jesus’ work of salvation on earth begins with one man’s decision to be faithful to his young pregnant fiancé against all the odds, and his society’s social and religious expectations.
“Joseph was a righteous man and did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace; he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:19f)
And so Jesus’ work of salvation continues to this day.
I have a dream-that fence dwellers might stand together and shout out across the rooftops of our fragmentary and broken society: “Ok we haven’t got it all sorted out but this one thing we do agree on: WE BELIEVE IN FAITHFUL RELATIONSHIPS BECAUSE WE BELIEVE IN A FAITHFUL GOD!”
Which is the more important phrase-‘one man and one woman’ or ‘for better for worse; ‘till death us do part’?
Finally, let me say I know it is hard. Faithfulness is not an easy option. I have been married for 24 years. It has not been easy….for my wife!
In Psalm 45 we read a wonderfully romantic Wedding Song (to the tune of ‘Lillies’, of the Sons of Korah) which was probably composed for one of King David’s weddings. What do we discover just six psalms later?
Psalm 51: (A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba).
Beginning with a sentiment which we all we do well to follow: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your unfailing love…..”
Here on earth, with all our imperfection and brokenness, the true passion of human faithfulness is only possible when fuelled by the love, grace and forgiveness that flows from the heart of God.
Furthermore, any list of qualities for a good marriage will probably have the word LOVE at the very top. But as Christians (possibly sitting on the fence together) we always need to remember what LOVE really is:
“This is what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And (therefore) we ought to lay down our lives for one another!” (1 John 3:16): Whatever our theological persuasion and whatever our sexual orientation.
Please sit with me up on the fence and let us seek God and work this out together, not for our own comfort, but for the sake of a hurting world presently being consumed by broken relationships.